Rethinking Racial Issues And Libertarian Strategy

Libertarians are used to being accused of racism.

This is often due to their position on civil rights legislation. The basis for that particular stance is to be found in the libertarian conception of property rights, freedom of association and non-aggression. Uninformed critics will miss this and attribute the libertarian position to racism. That having been said, there is something amiss in the traditional libertarian attitude on this question. Something that is worth addressing.

To begin with, the traditional libertarian position ignores the initiatory coercion that can flow from discrimination. Let us consult Roderick Long for a definition of coercion:

the forcible subjection, actual or threatened, of the person or property of another to one’s own uses, without that other’s consent.

If someone peacefully walks onto the premises of a business open to the public, they are not coercing anyone. The forcible removal of them from the property by private or public force would constitute an act of coercion.

What about mere denial of service as opposed to forcible removal? This may not involve literal physical force, but it still represents an attempt at authoritarian control of resources. This is especially true when an employee has no issue with serving someone, but the employer has set rules forbidding it.

In light of the above, it’s important for libertarians to recognize that there is nothing to be gained from expending rhetorical energy in opposing civil rights laws. The only exceptions being to demonstrate the viability and desirability of non-governmental solutions or to show how governmental solutions fail to accomplish their intended or stated goals.

The only allies one will acquire through thoughtless criticism of civil rights legislation are bigots. Aside from principled libertarians, they are the only ones who are against governmentalism of this type in this area of social life.

Does the above mean that we libertarians, concerned with civil rights, should embrace force as a solution or be less critical of the use of force? Not at all. As Sheldon Richman points out:

As I’ve written elsewhere, lunch counters throughout the American south were being desegregated years before passage of the 1964 Act. How so? Through sit-ins, boycotts, and other kinds of nonviolent, nongovernmental confrontational social action. (Read moving accounts here and here.)

The tactics of the civil rights movement were eminently libertarian. They deserve to be emulated and studied by contemporary libertarians. There are a whole host of other social problems that could be addressed by this style of direct action. Let us left-libertarians lead the way in embracing this radical approach to social change.

Anarchy and Democracy
Fighting Fascism
Markets Not Capitalism
The Anatomy of Escape
Organization Theory